On Discovering Self

"Walk in Peace... Learn from Nature... Find Yourself...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Simple Time, Simplest Things, Simply Fun!

   You know how there are times when you are out and about in your place of wilderness, and you really have no particular bushcrafting kind of skill thing in mind?
    But you just want to have some fun anyway? So you follow your whims, make it up as you go along, try to invent something, improvise a tool or an item of use?
    Well, that's what I did on this days outing. I think it was just one of those days.
    I didn't have much time to spend on the trail, so I conjured up a simple item that allowed me to practice some natural cordage processing skills and to dust off some not so often used weaving skill.
    Every time I go out exploring, I find myself looking for resources. Once you are familiar with things, everything you see takes on a whole new meaning.
   Trees are just no longer for shade, they become sources for food, tinder, cordage, water, shelter, fire making materials, fuel for fire once its lit, landmarks, direction indicators, potential camp chairs and tables and poles for rigging tripods and making pot hooks. I think the list seems endless.
   All manner of plants, both edible and non-edible (and the poisonous) become important for sustenance and materials for making things like cordage and spindles and tinder and for medicinal uses and the like.
   Everything you see around you on the landscape takes on a new perspective as you find that kinship with it. And with the familiar, comes comfort and security, knowing that it will provide for you if you take care of things.
   So it was on this particular day, I was looking at cattails. I have been spending lots of time with the cattail lately, learning what it has to offer in all its seasons.
   I've eaten it's roots, stalks, pollen and the pollen making parts so it seemed only right to explore using the tall grassy part of the plant for something. I decided to weave myself a place mat.

 I had found the reeds and some willow stalks nearby and sat down to the business of making up some cordage from the willow, so that I could tie together my "venetian blind" as it were.
   Next I weaved some additional reeds into one end to reinforce it, so that anything heaving would not fall through.

Next I rolled up one end to for a "scoop-like" basket that could hold a few items.

Then it was time for testing it out, by collecting some very "sticky" sumac berries that are just starting to come into season and will be ripe for making into sumac-ade or "pink tea." It is a great summer time treat.

  I was thankful that I did not have to use my bandana, as the berries were beginning to weep some of the sour juices that make it such a good choice for a beverage. Later, I used the scoop basket to collect some pencil lead sized twigs to use in my Emberlit stove.

   It was a good time to just play around, and knowing the basics of weaving with reeds, gives you options for making even more containers and fish traps and the like. Weaving is an essential and often over looked bushcraft skill. I really need to play around with it some more.
   I hope my friends that this will give you a quick idea on what you can try the next time you are out there and looking for something fun to do. I think it would make a good project to do with kids and the natural cordage processing is a very valuable skill to have for a lot of other things.
  Until next time, Happy Exploring.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

On Sharing Bushcraft With Others

   If you have been following along with my recent adventures, you will know that I have been visiting my new found brother in bushcraft and friend Shonuffisthemaster, for his hosted meet ups at the Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington, MN. As of July 14th, 2013, I think he has held six meetings so far and had three individuals show up on three of those meetings, not of course counting myself.
   I feel his frustration. He told me at this last Sundays meetup that he has counted 18 BushcraftUSA members and other friends, who have expressed interest in coming to the weekly meetings, many who want to practice skills and get in some dirt time. Some say they want to come to introduce their family members to bushcraft and are looking for a good days adventure. Yet others want to start on bushclass lessons and pick up a simple skill here or there.  For reasons unknown, few make the journey, even when he has offered to give them a ride.
   I know that life can interfere sometimes with other things in life. Adventure comes more easily with convenience. Sometimes dirt time just has to take a back seat and so it goes with bushcraft.
   It is within our human nature to take the easy way out, conserve energy, rest up when it is needed, taking the time to nurse the aches and pains of the previous days demands and to roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm goes off on Saturday morning reminding you that there is a bushcraft meetup at 9AM and you wanted to go for sure on Friday night, but the movie lasted way into the night and the dinner was heavy and now you just feel... well, sort of our of sync with it all.
   I think of these things, as I am sitting in my car, in the parking lot, on a Saturday morning at 9AM, with the rain coming down, and the clouds getting blacker and thicker and the wind is blowing. I think of what it is that is in me, that drives me to get out of bed every single Saturday and get into my "greens" and load up my kit and go to the meet up point for a mornings and afternoons worth of dirt time. What drives me to do this? Am I insane? Do I really like bushcraft and the outdoors that much? And why isn't anybody else wanting to do what I do? Where are all the interested bushcrafters who talk about coming to practice skills and to get involved? Yes, I do feel his frustration, we are a rare breed indeed.
   So when I arrived at the Sunday meet up, I was glad to hear from Sho' that a friend of his was going to be arriving for the afternoon session and that she was bringing her 4 year old son. She was interested in learning more about what bushcraft was all about. I knew we would be able to demonstrate several things for her, and help her to make her own bow drill set and try a few more things.
   As it was, Sho' and I went out for our usual walk about and then later returned to the meet up point for more skills practice. Here is a list of the things we did throughout the day.

Morning Session and Hike -
•Cordage practice - square laying, parallel lashing
•Improvised simple compass with magnetized sewing needle
•Knife sharpening - mora
•Wild edibles ID - black raspberries, wild crab apples, wild grape ( non-ripe)
•Medicinal plant ID - white yarrow, plantain, willow inner bark
•Non- edible ID- bush honeysuckle, buckthorn, Virginia creeper
•Poisonous plant ID - poison ivy, virginia creeper
•Practiced animal tracking - studied dog tracks and measured and direction
•Sourced natural cordage material - willow bark, basswood, nettle

Afternoon Session with Guest and son -
•Bow drill fire - red cedar spindle and hearth, jute tinder, shavings
•Built fire for lunch with splitwood
•Knife Safety and assisted guest to build bowdrill set
•Hand drill with chemical assist- sugar and potassium permanganate
•Flint and steel - demo and assisted guest
•Practiced deadfall setup with promontory peg trigger
•Made a Digging Stick
•Cooked kabobs over fire

   All the activities were fun as usual, but the highlights for me were making the improvised compass, as seen here in this picture,

    and demonstrating the use of the hand drill for getting fire with a chemical assist of potassium permanganate and sugar.
   It was a great day and in the end, I was glad for Sho' that he was able to have a friend come and enjoy the time he spent hosting a great meet up. I sure hope he is able to get more people to come. Maybe as word gets around and more trip reports are share, others will see how fun it is and want to come.
  I know I have wished for the same thing for my little band of bushcrafters, if only they were as excited and passionate about bushcraft as my friend Shonuff and I are. Until next time, Happy Exploring.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Willow Hand Drill, A Box Elder Hearth Board And A Little Modern Chemistry

   Although this is not your usual bushcraft idea for starting a fire, it does involve at first creating a hearth board with a good sized divot and a suitable sized hand drill that will roll easily between your hands and produce a little friction.
   By adding to this fire making solution a little modern chemistry, you can get fire relatively easily.
   Potassium Permanganate is the prime ingredient added to the hand drill and hearth board combination, along with some common sugar that might be part of any bushcraft or survival kit.
   Potassium Permanganate is a controlled substance in some countries, I believe that Canada is one of them, but here in the United States it can be purchased in bulk at any Lowes, Home Depot or Menards store in the section where water treatment supplies are stored.
   It is commonly used in the treatment of water as a de-ironing agent and for treating water in hot tubs, aquariums and pools and backyard ponds. It is used to combat algae growth and bacterial growth.
   It is commonly found in larger first aid kits and when mixed in the right ratios can act as a wound wash, although there is a lot of information out now that says this should no longer be used and to seek alternatives.
   Some people will have a small amount of potassium permanganate in their survival bag or kit, to use as a water purifier, wound wash and trace maker (if mixed in high enough concentrations it will write a message in the snow in purple).
   Although there are several risks with any chemical, having an awareness of the possibilities of its use in the event of an emergency, can give you just one more thing to try, if you need to make fire.
   So here is a video of my little experiment in mixing a little bushcraft with a little modern chemistry.

   I do not always carry potassium permanganate in my kit, but having used it a few times over the years, it does give a good emergency option. I hope you enjoyed the video and thank you for watching. Until next time, Happy Exploring.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Bushcrafting A "Compass" To Draw A Circle, Make A Clock Face, Find Direction With Digital Watch

   I have always been intrigued with ways of finding direction and the means to navigate. I simply like maps. I love looking at all kinds of maps. I enjoy making maps and possess a lot of different types of compasses to use with maps. Maps speak to me sometimes of unexplored territory, or undiscovered resources and even far away lands that I will probably never see but can only imagine.
   The world of maps and cartography is so vast that you can get lost in all the pictures and drawings and historic content that has been recorded in the volumes of maps that have been created since the dawn of recorded history.
   We humans like to record where we have been. We want other humans to follow us, to know that we existed, there and in that place. Maps are a way of leaving our mark, of giving ourselves a measure of significance, if only for a short time. We want others to know we were there and maps record our passage thru time and space.
   So if I have waxed a bit poetic, it is because maps and navigation and pictures and the stories we tell of how we got out there and made it back, all of this speaks to the heart of bushcraft. Maps, whether in our heads or on paper, or on bark, or on a rock and whatever, they are our way of finding the connection and kinship with the landscape the helps us find our place in the world of bushcraft.
   It is no wonder I have a small love affair with maps and finding direction and knowing where I am. It helps me feel at home, it brings on the familiar, it brings a level of comfort knowing that I can always find home because I am there already.
   So this is why I like playing with methods of finding direction. It helps me to feel at home and it brings comfort in the knowledge that all of natures resources are within my grasp if I know where I am and know where those things are.
   I took the time on a recent Sunday outing to explore how to make an analog clock face, to be able to translate the time on my digital watch to it, so that I could align the hour hand with the sun and get a bearing for north and south.
   Here is a short video of my experiment in learning to draw a precise circle with an improvised "compass" and to divide that circle into a clock face, that would be re-usable and transportable.

   It was a great little project, and a lot of fun and in the end gave me even more ideas about how to create accurate circles and angles and compass roses and other thoughts on geometry and well, I guess now we are back to maps and map making again. We've come full circle and that's what it's all about. Finding our way home. Until next time, Happy Exploring.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Foraging Wild Edibles: Cattail Pollen Stalks

   When it comes down to eating, there is nothing I like more than free food. Well, almost nothing more, except maybe finding free and wild food, specifically wild edible plants.
   On this particular day, July 4th, I decided to go on a hike out to one of my favorite spots. Along the way, I gathered some cattail pollen stalks that had not yet begun to shed any pollen.
    After cutting them to length to fit into my canteen cup, I boiled them for about 10 minutes with my Trangia alcohol burner and Canteenshop grill top stove.
   By the way, this was the first time I had the chance to try out my new Canteenshop stainless steel canteen and it's nesting stainless steel cup and grill top stove. It is a great combination and the perfect piece of kit for summer time use.
   The canteen holds a whopping 39.5 oz which is nearly 8 oz more then my regular USGI stainless steel canteen. During the summer, it is great to have the extra water along. The wide mouth of the canteen is also a great benefit and makes for easy cleaning or for packing it with snow in the winter for thawing and boiling.
   The cup has an internal measurement marking scale for easy mixing and cooking and is a very sturdy cup indeed.
   The grill top stove works like a charm and accommodated my Trangia alcohol burner with no problem.
   When all is said and done, this combination made for the making of a great little meal along with some lemonade mix and jerky.
   It was a lot of fun and a great way to past the time. The rest of the hike was spent on more edible plant ID and medicinal plant ID along the trail. Here is the video of that short, but fun, adventure.

   I have always enjoyed the spring and summer months for all the goodness that comes with foraging for wild edibles. The cattail is a good source year around, but the pollen stalks have to be found and used early as that stage of plant development does not last for very long. About this time of year, in this area, that time is nearly past.
   I hope you will be able to enjoy a little wild edible foraging this summer and be able to take advantage of nature's bounty. Until next time, Happy Exploring.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ah Yes... The 4th Of July Weekend... Lots Of Bushcraft

   Well, it wasn't suppose to happen this way, but I decided to put in a very late request for some vacation time, that is for the Friday after the 4th of July on Thursday. I wasn't expecting to get the time off, but the manager said on Wednesday, around 3:30pm, "Get out of here, we'll see you Monday."
   Woo Hoo! I had a four day weekend ahead of me. Now, what to do, what to do?? To the woods!!
   Wednesday after work, I pretty much vegged, thinking about how I could sleep in on the 4th. It was too late to get a campsite at the local park, besides I have more fun during the daytime hours anyway, sleeping in a tent is sometimes just a nuisance.
   I would rather be awake and out and about and when you live that close to the woods, well it just seems to be a no brainer. Sleep good, and play hard the rest of the day out in the woods where you can put in some day long dirt time.
   So after sleeping in on the 4th, I headed out on the trail and that afternoon did some playing with the new canteenshop grill top stove and canteen and cup. You can see that adventure earlier in this blog.
   On Friday, the 5th, I headed out to the local stomping grounds for just some good alone time and a good long hike that would eventually end up being a great work out, with a few surprises and I learned the tale of a tragic event for the state park.
   It seems some campers were using illegal fireworks, and they succeeded in setting several acres of prairie and grassland on fire. The DNR officers I spoke with, said the culprit was lead away in handcuffs and fined heavily for his actions. They said he was ignorant to the point that he did not even think of reporting it at first and just sat and watched it burn for quite awhile. He admitted setting the fire "accidentally" but did not feel any urgency in notifying anyone of the park officials.
   Everyone was very sad, but we all know that the prairie will recover and life within it will go on.
   I finished my Friday hike and started again to look forward to Saturday and my regular meeting with some Minnesota members of BushcraftUSA.
   I met up with my friend Shonuff' at 10AM and it was already about 75°F by that time. We worked on some knot tying practice and then went out on a long hike to visit the fire scared prairie and to work on some edible and medicinal plant ID.
   We ate some wild black raspberries and gooseberries and watched for other edibles.
   Here is a list of most of the things we played with during our dirt time:

• Practiced knot tying including:
square knot, sheet bent, double sheet bent, directional figure 8 loop, alpine butterfly knot, siberian hitch, canadian jam knot, two half hitches, tautline hitch, prusik knot, klemheist knot, bowline, bowline on a bight, figure 8, double fisherman's, and finally the one handed bowline.
• Worked on Wild edibles ID: black raspberries, gooseberries, burdock, greater plantain, cattail (pollen stalk), lambsquarters, smooth solomon seal, salisfy (goats beard), canadian thistle
• Also worked on non-edibles ID: bush honeysuckle, false solomon seal
• Practiced on medicinal plant ID: jewelweed, white yarrow, greater plantain
• Practiced on utility plant ID: mullein (both 1st and 2nd year plants), wood nettle, stinging nettle
• Worked on Tree ID: found ash for making bowdrill spindle
• Demonstration of practical sling by Shonuff: as a primitive weapon, possible food procurement tool
• Worked on firecraft: split wood for kindling, scrappings for tinder, bowdrill with ash on basswood, some hand drill practice
• Prepared full meal: kabobs with chicken, veggies and a rice dish on the side cooked with improvised pot hook

  Here is a video of most of our activity and adventure and I hope that you like it.

   It was a great time as usual and we finished up around 5pm. A good long day of skills practice and good camaraderie has had. I only wish we could convince more members to stop by and join us, but I think that day is coming.
   Sunday brought yet another bushcraft project day, but I am going to tell that story in yet another blog post, as I work to catch you all up on my latest adventures. Until next time, Happy Exploring.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Another Day In The Hyland Lake Park Reserve

   On June 30th, I once again made my way north to the Twin Cities and the Hyland Lake Park Reserve to meet with my friend Shonuff' for his regular 10AM meetup and skills practice.
   The weather was perfect to begin with, but I could tell it was going to be a warm day eventually and we would be thankful to be in the shade and in the picnic area on the hill, where the wind would keep us cool.
   As we hiked the trails, we worked on edible and medicinal plant ID, tree ID, some navigation and also some direction finding techniques.
   We eventually arrived at the Nature Center where we explored some debris shelters and their construction.
   Here is a list of most of the days activities in a nutshell:

•Land Nav- used park maps
•Direction Finding- used daytime moon to find "South"
•Worked on Medicinal Plant ID- white yarrow, greater plantain
•Worked on Edible PLant ID- wild strawberries, cattail, basswood leaves
•Observed wildlife- wild turkeys, osprey, various chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits
•Visited debris shelters and studied construction and visited 2 year old winter shelter
•Worked on Tree ID- Basswood, Willow, Red and White Oaks, Elm, Ash, Box Elder, Maples, Birch
•Practiced Friction Fire- bowdrill: basswood on basswood, 2 stick hearth board, natural and man-made tinders, false tinder fungus
•Practiced Fire by Magnification- sun to false tinder fungus to cedar bark tinder to flame

   Towards the end of the day, we were able to give several demonstrations of firecraft to a group of kids that were attending a birthday party celebration in the picnic area adjacent to ours. It was a lot of fun and the kids had a great time trying out the bowdrill and using flint and steel. Three of the boys worked together to get an ember with a bowdrill which Sho' was happy to help bring to flame for them.
    Here is the video of that days great adventure.
   As I did not have permission to be taking video of the kids, I was not able to capture their surprise and amazement on camera, but all around they were smiling and having a good time with learning about bushcraft. We shared the contents of our kits and talked also about the essentials and important skills to practice and also about the "rule of threes" and the sacred order.
   I have to call that outing and adventure a complete success and I look forward to going up there again. Hopefully we will begin to have some regular attendance and get to meet a few more Minnesota BushcraftUSA members so that we can begin to plan a multi-day event in the future.
   Thank you my friends for following along on my adventures and I hope you enjoyed the video. Until next time, Happy Exploring.